Millions of Americans struggle with alcohol abuse, and thousands enter treatment every year. For many people, the shift from regular or habitual drinker to someone with an addiction or dependence is subtle. Regular drinking can be a slippery slope to addiction, but if you’re concerned about your drinking, there is hope.
People with Substance Abuse Disorder (SAD) or alcohol use disorder use drinking as something more than just a way to relax. For them, drinking to excess endangers both themselves and others. If you’re unsure about your level of alcohol use, we can explain more about what is considered alcohol dependence.
When Does Drinking Become a Problem?
Moderate drinking is considered one to three drinks per day, or about 10 per week. Alcohol abuse is a pattern of drinking that exceeds moderate drinking and results in significant consequences for the individual. Alcohol abuse can affect many aspects of a person’s life, including work and school obligations, relationships with family and friends, and even have legal consequences.
Alcoholism is also considered alcohol dependence, and it’s characterized by the inability of a person to control their alcohol use. It doesn’t matter whether the individual drinks a particular kind of alcohol. What matters is their inability to quit drinking once they start. Many people with alcohol dependence build up a tolerance over time, which means they need to drink larger amounts to have the same effect.
The Dangers of Alcohol Dependence
Alcohol can have significant effects on a person’s physical and mental health. For people with alcohol dependence, there’s a physical craving and addiction, as well as a mental desire to use alcohol to help meet their emotional needs. Many people with alcohol dependence have underlying mental health issues, often anxiety and depression, and use alcohol to self-medicate.
When people with alcohol addiction try to stop drinking, they experience withdrawals. Many people may find these to be similar to a hangover, and in fact, that is what a hangover is. Withdrawal symptoms include:
- Nausea and vomiting or diarrhea
- Sweating, especially at night
- Irritability and anxiety
- Tremors or shaking hands
- Exhaustion and trouble sleeping
Some people with severe alcohol dependence can have life-threatening withdrawal symptoms if they try to quit on their own or “cold turkey.” This can include auditory and visual hallucinations and convulsions or seizures. If you believe you have an alcohol dependence, then you should seek medical attention and not try to quit on your own.
Long-term Effects of Alcohol Dependence
Over time, alcohol changes the brain chemistry. It acts on the same hormone receptors as dopamine and serotonin, which are responsible for regulating a person’s mood and giving pleasure feedback. The brain begins to rely on alcohol to provide those feelings, rather than the brain producing its own pleasure hormones, which leads the brain to stop producing them. The early weeks of sobriety can be challenging for many people because they cannot find pleasure in things that they ordinarily would or would without alcohol. It takes weeks foor the brain to begin producing the “happy hormones” itself again.
Physical damage also includes liver damage, a fatty liver that can lead to cirrhosis, which can be deadly. People with alcohol dependence can also have a higher risk for digestive cancers, and women who drink too much may have an increased risk of breast cancer. Heart disease is also common in alcohol-dependent people, including high blood pressure and an increased risk of a heart attack or stroke.
Treating Alcohol Dependence
Treating alcohol dependence starts with detoxifying the body safely. Because the withdrawal symptoms of alcohol can be life-threatening, many alcohol addicts should have medically supervised detox. Once the body is cleansed, then treating the mind can begin.
Treatment centers like America’s Rehab Campus help people with alcohol addiction understand the science behind addiction and how habitual drinking becomes an addiction. You may also start individual and group therapy, exploring the underlying reasons behind your alcohol dependence. Drinking to self-medicate anxiety and depression is common, so treating those conditions along with alcohol addiction can help people have a better chance of staying sober.
Many people also use alcohol and other drugs to mask trauma. Individual counseling can help you work through traumatic experiences in your past and establish healthy coping mechanisms. Group therapy can help people feel like they aren’t alone and establish connections with other sober people, giving you a safe network of support.
Do You Need Help With Alcohol Dependence?
If you believe that you’ve developed alcohol dependence, there is help. America’s Rehab Campus can help with medically-supervised detox as well as the therapy and counseling needed to help you achieve and maintain sobriety. We offer intensive outpatient treatment, as well as family therapy to help you mend your relationships. Contact us today for a confidential assessment.